Arduino vs Raspberry Pi: Which Is The Mini Computer For You?

featured pi vs arduino   Arduino vs Raspberry Pi: Which Is The Mini Computer For You?You’re looking for a small computer to power a laser turret that can shoot multi-coloured balloons – it’s a common situation we all find ourselves in at one point or another – and you’ve heard good things about both Arduino and Raspberry Pi. But you can’t decide – which the best mini-computer for your project? Which is going to prevail as the most useful once you’ve disassembled the turret thanks to that incident with the neighbour’s cat? Which could you play movies on? Don’t worry, James is here to explain all!

What’s The Difference?

The Arduino and Raspberry Pi may look quite similar – they’re both cute little circuit boards with some chips and pins on them – but they are in fact very different devices. The Arduino is in fact a micro-controller; not a mini-computer. A micro-controller is just a small part of what makes a computer, and only provides a subset of the functionality of the Rapsberry Pi.

Although the Arduino can be programmed with small C-like applications, it cannot run a full scale “operating system” and certainly won’t be replacing your media center anytime soon. The Raspberry Pi on the other hand, is a computer. If you’re reading this site, I’m just going to assume you know what that means.

Strengths & Weaknesses

So is the Arduino useless then? Hardly – an Arduino is perfect for electronics projects. It contains a set of input and output that can often be connected directly to components and sensors, and is incredibly easy to just jump straight into making something. This makes it ideal for prototyping things.

The Arduino runs the Arduino firmware – a basic bit of core software which allows it to communicate with a computer over USB and gives access to all the features. You generally wouldn’t replace this firmware, but it is possible. Once your application has been loaded, you can just plug it in anywhere and it’ll start working immediately – you don’t need to reboot, plug in a keyboard, or choose an application to run. It does the one job it’s been programmed to do, and it does it immediately.

photo arduino   Arduino vs Raspberry Pi: Which Is The Mini Computer For You?

The Raspberry Pi on the other is a complete, functional, mini-computer. It requires an operating system – the first thing you need to choose that will dramatically affect your experience – and has all the bits and pieces you might expect a full computer to have (just in a smaller scale). Storage is provided from a micro-SD card, while built-in Ethernet allows for networking (you can get networking on Arduino too, but it requires an add-on “shield”).

At the heart of the Pi is a Broadcom Arm-v6 CPU; it has memory, and a graphics processor driving the HDMI output. You can plug in a keyboard and monitor, load up Linux, and the less technically savvy might have no clue how tiny the machine driving everything really is. The Pi is an incredibly powerful platform in a very small package – perfect for embedded systems, or projects requiring more interactivity and processing power.

muo rasppi sd   Arduino vs Raspberry Pi: Which Is The Mini Computer For You?

That said, the Raspberry is significantly more complex for simple electronics projects. For example, everyone’s first project is some derivative of flashing an LED on and off. On the Arduino, this involves connecting an LED and resistor to two pins, then uploading about 8 lines of code. That’s it. On the Raspberry Pi – assuming you have a fully functional operating system already installed and set up as you like – you then need to install some libraries to help you control the GPIO pins (that’s the bits you connect components to).

There are lots of libraries to choose from though, depending on which language you want to program in – including visual designers such as Scratch. WiringPi lets you write in the same language that Arduino is derived from. Finally, you may need to compile your app before running it. The point is, you can do nearly everything an Arduino can, on a Pi – but it’s more complicated.

scratch   Arduino vs Raspberry Pi: Which Is The Mini Computer For You?

Another important point to remember here is that Arduino is the most popular platform for electronics projects, so even though electronics projects are possible on Raspberry Pi (and there certainly are a few), you won’t find as nearly as many beginner tutorials to help you. It might be best to consider the Pi as an upgrade once you’re ready to handle bigger and more demanding projects.

On the other hand, the Raspberry Pi is a mini-computer, the Arduino isn’t. To understand that point a little more clearly, here’s a small selection of operating systems you can install on the Raspberry Pi:

There’s a nice test and usability reviews of some of these over at TechRadar. There’s even an app-store.

openelec   Arduino vs Raspberry Pi: Which Is The Mini Computer For You?

And here’s a list of operating systems you can install on the Arduino:

  • None

So, you’re decided? Great. Start by checking out all our Raspberry Pi or Arduino tutorials.

WAIT! Why Choose At All?

Actually, you can have the best of both worlds; the Pi may be a more complex Arduino, and the Arduino can’t nearly handle as much as the Pi – but have you considered using them together? This project – AlaMode – puts a stackable Arduino clone directly on top of the Pi, giving instant access to all the usual Arduino functions.

alamode   Arduino vs Raspberry Pi: Which Is The Mini Computer For You?

Or if Python is more your thing, just plug your Arduino into the USB of your Pi and use this interface.

I hope you’re clearer on the differences between Arduino and Raspberry Pi now, but if not, the comment form is but a few hundred pixels away and I’d be happy to help where I can.

The comments were closed because the article is more than 180 days old.

If you have any questions related to what's mentioned in the article or need help with any computer issue, ask it on MakeUseOf Answers—We and our community will be more than happy to help.

28 Comments -

Guy McDowell

Good article and timely. The general public is starting to become aware of Pi and Arduino, sort of.

I haven’t purchased either yet, but I will be. For the exact reasons you stated. An Arduino for making prototypes of devices that are pretty much single function, hence they only really need a controller. And a RaspberryPi as a media center or for other places in the house where I’d like a computer, but with a smaller form factor and price tag than other computers.

dragonmouth

Not to be pedantic or picky but Raspberry Pi is not a “mini-computer”. It may be a ‘mini-PC’ or a “mini-micro” or maybe if you stretch the definition a lot, a “micro-computer”. “Mini-computers” were smaller computers developed for small businesses that could not or did not want to pay for a mainframe. The PDP-8 and PDP-11 series from Digital Equipment Corp are a good example of “mini-computers”.

muotechguy

Does that definition still qualify in modern parlance? There’s a probably a lot of technical terms that have since been redefined from the days when a computer was the size of a room. I mean, wouldn’t all computers be “mini” compared to those beasts?

dragonmouth

“I mean, wouldn’t all computers be “mini” compared to those beasts?”
Is a Beowulf Cluster considered one “computer” or a bunch of micros strung together?

To paraphrase “A Raspberry Pi by any other name is still a Raspberry Pi””

null

ROFL! sorry..just had to laugh.

Rajaa Chowdhury

Awesome read as usual James. :) Bookmarked it too.

Nick Boorer

I am considering buying one of these for my 12-year-old niece. I would really like some guidance about what would provide a more enriching and accessible learning experience for someone of that age with, as far as I know, no programming knowledge or experience. I do not want it to end up as an interesting paperweight.

James Bruce

An Arduino? Then I would recommend one of these starter kits: http://www.seeedstudio.com/depot/ardx-the-starter-kit-for-arduino-p-1153.html – comes with very easy to understand diagrams, about 10 projects, and a range of components to teach her the basics.

If you’re thinking a Pi instead, I wouldn’t recommend it. She can already learn “programming” easily on a family computer.

macwitty

Thanks James, even if we are not 12 I think that starter kits will work for us too. We have decided to buy one to make a common summer project with friends and their children

Harold

If you were to get her something, try the Vilros Arduino Uno pack, I started with that one. It gives a couple things like a small IC and some other components. (Including an Uno of course).

null

The Pi requires a normal SD card, not micro SD. Please fix this. Micro SD can be utillised by using a Micro SD to SD converter.

Doc

“functionality of the Rapsberry Pi.” Whoops.

MakeUseOf TechGuy

Oh, you don’t know? that’s the nickname for the new model.

;)

Doc

Riiiiiiiiiiight.

Patrick J

Well, Raspberry Pi is for a whole lot of purposes. Making electronic projects is one of them, thanks to the USB and GPIO ports. But Arduino is just for making electronic projects. Even though both will be a geek’s choice, but for different reasons. Otherwise for a normal person, the former is the best thing to get started.

Muhannad Agha

This was really helpful, thank you so much!

Adam

I am working on a robotic project with two 24v motors. Would the Arduino work as a motor controller for both of them? Thanks for the great explanation!

MakeUseOf TechGuy

Not directly, no. It would act as a controller for everything as long as you connected the correct drivers for those motors, but directly it cannot power motors like that.

Meinereiner

Thanks for this great article!
Theoretically speaking, what parts are missing to make the arduino a full mini computer?
Or asking another way: isn’t a computer something which is able to do what a turing machine can do, so what can a turing machine do , what a arduino can’t?

MakeUseOf TechGuy

It’s significantly less powerful than a mini-computer, but ultimately, sure, they are of the same breed. Comparing either to a theoretical machine invented for philosophical arguments isn’t productive though..

In short, they lack the power, instruction set, architecture, and memory required to be what we would today call a “computer”. 50 years ago, the Arduino would have been the most powerful computer around.

electro boy

The arduino is based on a microcontroller. Microcontroller’s are programmed with a particular task in mind.

The Pi is based on an processor. Processor’s, process the information that is given to them and is therefore far most versatile.

A Pi is nicknamed a mini computer because it has all of the components of a normal computer and acts like one too; unlike the arduino

once

tks soso much~~
i m a looooooooot more clear now
just…let me check out what’s difference bw microcontroller and microcomputer XDD

Howard

Thank you for your clear description of the differences. For one who had previously only eaten raspberry pie i found it very helpful.

Suncat2000

The best choice for a beginner, with no programming knowledge nor experience, would be the Raspberry Pi. Speaking from experience, the fewer number of parts that have to be assembled, the more likely a project will be completed. The Arduino is pretty cool, but you will need many additional parts and technical knowledge to get it to do something useful successfully, plus a computer to upload its program: in short, too many pieces for a simple introduction to electronics. Let her learn with a few simple parts, gain some confidence in accomplishment, and build a little at a time without lots confusing terms, parts, design, and construction all at once.

James B

Well speaking from experience as being one of those beginners who has used both systems, I completely disagree. It is far harder to get started doing anything with a Pi; you need to install an OS, download a programming IDE and figure out which language you want to write in, figure out to interface with the GPIO, then deal with having just 3.3v and the increased potentially of frying the Pi with more standard voltages.

Suncat2000

Then I stand corrected. A beginner would have difficulty with both.

Auto phill

Thank you. A great comparison. It’s the controller for me. Plus a couple of Xbees to enable my early computing to do something really smart!

Frank Miller MD

I have bought both. I find the books on both to be roughly equivalent but the Raspberry authors seem to sense that the class of readers know less in general about everything from the ground up from computing, languages to electrical components etc and explain MORE. I would recommend first starting with Gray Girling’s book Raspberry Pi: A practical guide to the revolutionary small computer; Owner’s Workshop Manual. The initial sections on setup, naming and showing the components, pins, parts and sections of the Pi are superb and his aside inserts hit the spots of lack of knowledge that many unsophisticated total newbie readers have, just right. I am ‘consumer testing’ these on three boys in my home having started a Thursday evening computer club since our local charter school decided not to take this on. one boy is 12 in the 7th grade, the other two are 13 and in 8th grade. One boy is a mild Asperger’s kid (I am a child psychiatrist). We have table in our massive downstairs ‘family game room’ and the game consoles are now being neglected…They are doing well with the texts, and catching on well, still needing some informed help but enjoying the heck out of themselves. I had purchased similar sets for Arduino boards and books and add-on’s for them and let them mull over both options and they all unanimously gravitated to the Pi the first evening and have not looked back.